30 December 2015
Keechelus Lake via John Wayne Pioneer Trail at Hyak Sno-Park, Snoqualmie Pass – Central Cascades
3 miles, 150 ft. climb to 2600 ft. maximum elevation
My hiking buddies begged for another grand adventure in the snow today after getting a taste yesterday during our brief jaunt at the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. They were so excited about another outside adventure that, within an hour of waking, we were completely packed up in the car and on our way to Hyak Sno-Park. Following an uneventful 45 minute drive eastbound on Interstate 90, we found ourselves waiting in a long line just to get into the parking lot. It wasn’t even 10:30, but everyone was in the mood to play in the snow this morning! Luckily for us, the line moved relatively quickly and we found a great parking spot just beside the public facilities.
Since the girls were already fully dressed in their snow gear, it was just a matter of strapping on our snowshoes and heading onto the Iron Horse Trail, also known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Yes, we were going snowshoeing! Just a mere 20 miles from where we were yesterday, the JWPT transformed from a graveled road dotted with pillows of snow to a winter playground filled with nothing but sparkles of white flakes to pave the way. I could barely buckle them into their snowshoes before they attempted to run onto the trail for our day-long expedition in the snow.
We began our snowshoe trek at the beginning of the groomed trail just beyond the officially designated sledding hill. Given this amazing bluebird day, there were already quite a few cross-country skiers finishing up their long route for the morning. My hiking buddies and I didn’t get very far before they couldn’t help but jump off the trail and into the fresh snow to play. After a few snow angels and snowballs (aimed at yours truly), I challenged them to keep moving forward by “adventuring” off-trail through the deeper snow rather than staying on the groomed trail. Big Hiking Buddy wanted to make her own tracks, while Little Hiking Buddy preferred to climb over the miniature crests and valleys left behind by previous snowshoes.
We left the crowds behind after a mere half mile further on the trail, as many had come out just to ride their sleds down the hills. When we found ourselves at the junction to Lake Keechelus Trailhead, BHB convinced LHB there would be more to discover along the lake route than keeping with the cross-country skiers on the JWPT. Taking the lesser-traveled route allowed LHB to track animal prints as BHB continued to post-hole her own way through the snow. I enjoyed the expansive view of a snow-drenched Keechelus Lake trimmed by the crystal peaks of the Central Cascades. Today was such a gorgeously clear day that I could see far beyond Snoqualmie Pass and into the mountains of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
We continued onto the open area along the frozen banks of the Lake upon coming into view of an avalanche chute. With 1.5 miles of snowshoeing behind us, my hiking buddies deserved a lunch break. Rather than filling their empty tummies, they opted instead to see how deep down they could dig into the snowbank. I alone enjoyed a picnic lunch while admiring the panoramic view of snow-capped mountains. Of course, when it was time to leave our play area, hunger struck LHB with a vengeance; and she quickly devoured her Nutella brioche as we meandered back to the Sno-Park.
The return view was just as brilliant and peaceful as that of our trek out. Billowing clouds, clear against the blue sky, weaved between the peaks above while snowdrifts blanketed the earth in layers of white all around us. I couldn’t get enough of the landscape. However, the girls were anxious to finish our trek so they could trade in their snowshoes for the sled. It was astonishing how much energy they recouped once they were in view of our car (and the sled).
Before we even made it to the parking lot, my hiking buddies begged to play in the untouched powder. With snowshoes buried in the bank, they scrambled up the hillside in attempts to slide down together. It took a few tries for them to compact the snow just enough to successfully make it all the way down through their newly defined trail. I finally corralled us back to the car to load up what was no longer needed and pull out the pièce de résistance, otherwise known as the sled. With just one sled to share today – as my order of a sleek new European-style sled had yet to arrive – the girls had to learn how to maneuver their snowboat together. It was comedy in action as I watched them repeatedly topple over and giggle in hysterics. I don’t think they could have had more fun if they tried.
After a full day in the snow, it was time for us to head back to the “city.” LHB had to get to her last climbing class of the year. I thought she – of all people – would be exhausted enough to nap during the long drive to Bellevue, but she was as ebullient then as she was before getting on the trail this morning. Oh well! At the climbing gym, BHB and I took the opportunity to spend the time together challenging ourselves on various boulder problems. It was utterly awesome to watch Brainy Hiking Ballerina apply strategy and elegantly execute on her routes up the wall. This was a fantastic end to an adventurous day with my hiking (and climbing) buddies!